KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (0-0)
at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (0-0)
Kickoff: Thursday, 8:30 p.m. ET
Line: New England -8.0, Total: 50.0
The 2017 season opens with the revamped Patriots defending their title against championship contender Kansas City.
New England was 17-2 last season including the playoffs – 14-1 once QB Tom Brady’s suspension ended. Despite having the league’s stingiest scoring defense and an all-time great under center, the Patriots made several impactful changes in the offseason, almost certainly improving their already elite roster. The Chiefs were 12-4 last season, earning the No. 2 seed and falling a mere two-point conversion short to the Steelers in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. K.C.’s offseason suggests they’ll become less conservative on offense, as game-manager QB Alex Smith may be on the outs if he continues to leave big plays on the field. Their defense is stacked with playmakers in the secondary and the pass rush, forcing a league-high 33 turnovers last year with the potential to be even better in 2017. With Brady, New England is 5-2 SU & 3-4 ATS vs. Kansas City, and 4-0 SU & 2-2 ATS when playing in Foxboro. The last time these teams met was in January 2016, when the Pats covered a 6-point spread with a 27-20 home playoff win. New England is 6-0 SU & 5-0-1 ATS in September over the past two seasons, though K.C. is 11-3 SU & ATS in their last 14 road games (dating back to Nov. 2015), including seven-straight SU & ATS road wins to close last season.
The Chiefs may have traded up to draft QB Patrick Mahomes 10th overall in April’s draft, but QB Alex Smith will remain under center for the foreseeable future. After finishing 15th in yards per pass attempt and 19th in passing yards per game last season, head coach and offensive play-caller Andy Reid may ask Smith to take more chances downfield. Smith has thrown just 28 INT in four years under Reid, but rarely makes splash plays and leaves a lot of opportunities on the field. Smith’s top target is TE Travis Kelce, coming off an 85-catch, 1,125-yard All-Pro season. Kelce is often isolated on one side of the field to force the defense’s hand in coverage, and he’s developed into an asset as a run blocker when opponents line him up against lighter defenders. With the release of WR Jeremy Maclin in June, lightning-fast Tyreek Hill ascends into the No. 1 WR role. He was almost unstoppable as a gadget player last season and scored thrice on kick returns. The rest of the receiving group is unproven. RB Spencer Ware tallied 1,368 yards from scrimmage in 14 games last season, and third-round draft pick RB Kareem Hunt is an immediate asset in the passing game. No defense created more turnovers than the Chiefs last season, and the All-Pro duo of S Eric Berry and CB Marcus Peters are scoring threats when on the field. Edge-rusher Justin Houston is healthy after two injury-plagued seasons, and has tallied an impressive 60 sacks in 69 career starts. Former first-rounder Dee Ford (10 sacks last year) is coming into his own opposite Houston, while Tamba Hali (89.5 career sacks) gives K.C. a deep rotation of pass-rushers.
New England averaged 31 points per game under QB Tom Brady last season, and Brady shows no signs of slowing down at age 40. If not for a four-game suspension to start the season, Brady would’ve been an easy MVP pick, throwing for 28 TD and just 2 INT. Brady’s receiving group was upgraded this offseason with the healthy return of elite TE Rob Gronkowski and the acquisition of former Saints WR Brandin Cooks, who’s accounted for 2,359 yards from scrimmage and 20 total TD in the past two seasons. WR Julian Edelman (98 rec, 1,106 yards last year) remains highly productive on option routes out of the slot, and WR Chris Hogan had a career year and thrived in the playoffs in his first season as a Patriot in 2016. New England added former Bills RB Mike Gillislee (league-leading 5.7 yards per carry last season) and versatile former Bengals RB Rex Burkhead in free agency, while RB James White’s 139-total-yard, 3-TD performance in Super Bowl LI showed his ability to thrive in this scheme. Considering departed RB LeGarrette Blount’s success in the offense despite his unexceptional skillset, the Patriots run game won’t lose any efficiency. Devoid of stars, New England's bend-don't-break defense allowed the fewest points in the NFL last season. They win with scheme as opposed to individual talent. Free agent CB Stephon Gilmore joins a solid secondary that rarely gives up big plays, and former Panthers DE Kony Ealy will inject some life into the pass rush. LB Dont'a Hightower is an old-fashioned bruiser in the middle of the defense, while DT Alan Branch is stout against the run.